Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Sunny South Africa

I am finally in sunny SA.... and nearly home!


My plan is to lazily drive down the coast to Cape Town.  I should be arriving at the V&A Waterfront (clock tower) Wednesday afternoon.

This is an open invitation to come join me for a couple long cold beers and some bubbly stuff.  I'll be showing off my new beard, come and have a look.

I will update blog about Namibia in a few days.  Just need some time to write.

Lastly since I am nearly home I expect all off you to click that paypal button.  Remember : donate recklessly to the charity...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Angolan Sprint

I have been trying really hard to write this blog update for more than a week now.  For some strange reason sitting down and  writing this makes me feel like I’m closing another chapter of my trip.  My problem is that there aren’t that many chapters left over.  After Angola it’s only Namibia and sunny South Africa.  I’ve been having such a great time that I guess I’m trying to keep things going for as long as possible. 

It was some time before it really sunk in how lucky me and Dominik where with our Angolan visas.  With all the waiting for the embassies to open after the new year, we knew of a few groups of overlanders who gathered around us at various towns with Angolan embassies in Congo and the DRC.  In time they where all refused visas.  Morten who flew back to Europe, as we where told to do, had immense difficulties and after weeks they only offered him a 2 day transit visa.  Not nearly enough to transit across Angola.  In the end those who could went to Dolisie and where also successful, and those who couldn’t go there had to make other plans ranging from flying or shipping around Angola to taking a very notoriously difficult route through he hart of the DRC. Morten flew back from Europe and also went to Dolisie where they happily gave him a 5 day Transit Visa, and Luis who was refused entry to the Pointe Noir embassy was given his extension.  Strange how things work, and different embassies for the same country have different policies.  Only in Africa!!  But this time it was definitely to our advantage.

Our biggest problem was which route to take down to the Angolan border.  There where three main options.  The first and main road was through Brazzaville-Kingshasa, but our DRC visas where issued along the way and not in our home country.  The Kinshasa border was thus closed to us.  Yes, even with a visa we couldn’t enter at Kinshasa, they only accept visas issued form your home country.  The second was a small border crossing between Brazzaville and Dolisie..  Notoriously difficult small track that floods during the rainy season.  A group ahead of us spent nearly 5 days on that stretch and it isn’t even 200km long.  During our time in Dolisie it has been raining a lot, and the area around us was flooded, so definitely not our first option. The third was a relatively new road that went to Pointe Noir and then down through the Angolan enclave of Cabinda.  According to rumour it is all tarred until you reach the DRC border.  With all the rain around us tar sounded very good, but it would mean loosing one of our precious five days for Angola in Cabinda.  Leaving us only four days to cross mainland Angola.  Crossing Angola in 5 days is hard work, trying to do it in 4 would be quite a challenge. 

Crossing Africa has not been short of challenges, but this would be something quite unique.  We knew little about the road conditions, our maps and gps showed mostly tarmac, but have been wrong many times.  We knew even less about fuel availability, and Angola is notorious for its numerous corrupt road blocks and time consuming beaurocracy.  On a normal day we cover about 250 kilometres.  It gives you enough time to do all the necessary stops and a hour at the end of the day to find accommodation.  Most importantly it doesn’t drain your energy levels and is a distance that can easily be covered day after day.  350 Kilometres a day is quite hard work, and 500 km a day is extremely draining.  Not a distance you can do for days on end.  Crossing this fast country in a limited timespan would be a massive challenge.  Very different to our chilled out approach to the rest of Africa, but one I gladly accepted. 

To save our energy levels Dominik and I planned to have a few lazy days riding to Cabinda, and then one day to cross Cabinda. The road to Cabinda was a gorgeous new road snaking through thick forest, as we knew it was our last bit of rain forest we thoroughly enjoyed it.   I do love the rain forests. 
All would have gone to plan, but we forgot it was Sunday.  The Angolan border posts where open so we easily entered Cabinda and it was a nice lazy ride to the border to exit Cabinda for the DRC.  What we only found out at the border was the the DRC side was closed for the Sunday.  SHIT!  They wanted us to come back on the Monday, but we couldn’t.  It would result in us losing two precious days of our Angola visa.  Luckily Dominik was on good form, he managed to charm the pants off the border guard (Yes, she was female), and we came to a good agreement.  We where stamped out of Angola, but as we couldn’t enter DRC we camped the night on the border and finished the border formalities the next day. 

Again every one was super friendly and helpful at both border posts, and bribes where never mentioned.  No one even mentioned that our DRC visas where not issued form our home country.  So much different to what we expected.

We spent a couple days in DRC making our way to the Angolan border.  I must say it was easier than expected.  We did have a couple of bad stretches of road, but again we where lucky and it didn’t rain. The worst part was the first 40 km just after the border, with patches of very deep and very loose sand.  Bad enough that I fell a couple of times, but it was only minor put downs.  Rain would have made this so much more difficult.

There where no signs of any unrest or problems on the route we took, but it was very obvious people where poor and desperate.  The requests for food, money, booze, cigarettes etc. reached an all time high.  In some places it was so bad that we even cut our rest brakes short.  At least you have some peace while on the road.  It is unbelievable how thoroughly the local people are brainwashed that the white man is the cause and solution to all their problems.  What a load of bullshit!!  If only these people knew the fast amounts of money their politicians, their own people are stealing from them!!  I really wish there was a way to get the message across, but with little education, illiteracy and no reliable mass communication the masses are doomed to believe the nonsense their politicians tell them.

Dominik and I  reached the Sonoglolo-Luvo border crossing well rested and ready for our 4 day Angolan challenge.  We had to average 500km a day, and I was very curios to see how thing would go.

Day 1 :

We made sure we where at the border 7:30 am sharp.  Right when they opened.  We wanted to get the formalities done as quickly as possible, but African time was against us.  The chief on the DRC side didn't arrive at work until 09:30, and then they where difficult because our DRC visa’s where issued from Yaounde and not our home country.  We tried very hard to explain that we are leaving the country, if there where problems with our visa they shouldn’t have let us enter, but they cannot stop us form leaving.  Can they? 
An hour later we where finally stamped out.  The Angolan side wasn’t much better, no problems but just unbelievably slow.  It was mid day when we finally finished our border formalities. No way we would make our 500 km for the day, but we had to try and do as much distance as possible.  Things could have been worse though, in the last year there where a couple of groups who spend days at the same border crossing.  The longest I know of was 11 days at the beginning of 2011.

After the border we headed for the coast, a combination of good gravel and brand new tarmac.  The scenery was stunning, the police at the road blocks where friendly (slow but friendly) and we where enjoying ourselves immensely.  We made up for some lost time, and thought we might end up doing some good miles.

But at Nzeto the road deteriorated significantly, the strech between Nzeto and Caxito was known to be bad, but it was much worse than expected.  Our average speed came down to a crawl.  We also started to run out of daylight, and with no chance of reaching the next town we decided on a bush camp. All  travellers are aware of Angola's land mine problem, so we where very careful about our bush camping spot.  But we saw no signs of anything in the area and found a nice spot with some car tracks around it.  My thinking being that if someone else drove around it should be safe.  And we where fine.  Our first sunset in Angola was magical, huge red sun with stunning blue skies.
Distance for day 1 – only about 350 km.

Day 2

We where up bright and early, and ready to tackle the bad road to Caxito.  I had a great morning on the bike, one of those days where everything just works and gels.  I had a fantastic time playing on the better stretches, but the bad stretches where hard work and very tiring.  Most of the road ran through bushveld and boab forests, so the scenery was great and made up for most of the bad stretches.  I did get a huge fright though.  About half an hour form where we camped I saw some guys cutting the grass along the side of the road.  Strange that they wore army uniforms and where cutting the grass in the middle of nowhere?  When I came closer I noticed one of the guys wearing what looked like a huge big blue apron, that’s when it hit me…  It was a mine clearing operation.  The weed eaters where actually metal detectors and the blue apron was a blast suite.  Another 30 kilometres further we dove past a big mine clearing camp.  The area actually still had mines.  Way to close to our camping spot for comfort.

From Caxito we where promised good tarmac for the rest of the day.  Hoping to make up some lost time we had a quick lunch at a roadside stall and headed off for Luanda.

The traffic through Luanda is supposed to be very busy and agonisingly slow, with an average time of about 3 hours to cross Luanda.  We didn’t have that much time to waste and decided to try a short cut… and yes you guessed it…  We got hopelessly lost (thanks to listening to the locals and not our GPS’s) and lost all the time we would have gained.

At sunset that evening we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere again, and so not keen to camp again we decided to continue for the nearest big town.  It would mean breaking our rule of driving in the dark, but the town was only about an hour away and we didn’t really have much choice.  About half way to the town with Dominik driving in front we suddenly ran into a herd of cows in the middle of the road.  They just appeared out of nowhere and it looked like Dominik hit one.  I nearly had an heart attack, a big accident was the last thing we needed.  But we where so lucky.  Dominik missed the cow with millimetres and hit it with the side of the bike’s pannier, leaving a big dent in it.  Dominik, the cow and his bike where OK, but it was much to close.  What’s the use of safety rules if we don’t follow them?  Driving in the dark is definitely out now.  Again.

That night we slept in a cosy hotel in Porto Ambion.
Distance for day 2 – about 450km.

Day 3 :

Again another day up with sunrise.  On the road bright and early.  Our plan was to keep along the coast until we reach Benguela, and then head inland towards Lubango.  We where quite a bit behind on mileage and hoped to put in a big day.  Again nothing was easy, the morning we where plagued by some rain.  Not hard enough to force us to stop, but enough to be cold and miserable, and enough to bring our average speed right down to a crawl.
Strange how we drove through the tropics in the middle of the rainy season and it never rained while on the road, and now that we are pushed for time it’s raining.  Just our luck.
After Benguela the rain stopped and we started to make our way into the Angolan highlands.  And I loved it.  We where on a brand new piece of tarmac with unbelievably green bushveld as far as the eye could see.  My favourite was the never ending clear blue skies.  I have been waiting for this for months.  After the claustrophobic low dark clouds of the tropics and the non descript grey skies of London, these fast expanses of blue gave me goose bumps. Again and again.
That night we camped again, in the middle of nowhere with another stunning African sunset.  This time in a safe spot, but the rain caught up with us and it poured down. 

Distance for day 3  - about 450km

Day 4
We where up at sunrise again, cold and wet, but ready for another big days driving.  We didn’t have time to dry our stuff so everything was packed as is.  The morning drive in the highlands was unbelievably cold. It felt like we where back in the Pyrenees, but as soon as the mist cleared we where greeted with more stunning scenery.  The cold quickly forgotten.

We had one excursion planned for Angola.  The Leba pass.  We saw pictures of this pass in some of the Angolan embassies we visited, a pass with dozens of very tight hairpins stacked one on top of the other.  It looked like a joy to drive.  We where behind schedule, but decided to do the 100km detour anyway.  What a blast that was.  Reaching the top of the pass the view was breath taking, and going down the hairpins was so much fun.  I couldn’t help but whoop with joy!  Definitely a big highlight and worth the time lost.

After Leba pass we made a big blast for the border, but by the end of the day we where about 150 km short of the border.  We nearly made it, but a couple of stretches of very bad road just took to much time.  The Angolan government is busy with a very big regeneration attempt, and most of the main roads are brilliant new tarmac, but every now and then there are stretches where they are still building the road.  These where quite bad and took up a lot of our time.  In the end of the day I really didn’t mind. I have been enjoying Angola so much, the people are so friendly, the scenery so beautiful and the corrupt police officials were nowhere to be seen.  Another day in Angola was a bonus,  I just hoped we didn’t get into to much trouble for overstaying our visas by a day.  Fingers crossed.

That night we stayed in a town called Xhangongo and at sunset we where treated to an amazing lightning storm.  Far of in the distance but right where we would have camped if we pushed harder for the border.  So glad we didn’t.

Day 5:
The last 150 kilometres to the border would have been uneventful, but I had to embarrass myself.  We where driving in a town, and I just didn’t concentrate for a second.  My front wheel slipped on some mud and I put my bike down.  Not hard, but right in front of a taxi rank packed with people.  Unbelievably embarrassing, but very funny. 

Our Angolan border crossing nearly went without a hitch.  We managed to get stamped out without anyone noticing we overstayed by a day.  We where both careful to hide our entry and exit stamps for the day in Cabinda as much as possible, and amazingly it worked.  Everyone thought we where there on our fifth and last day.  Whoop whoop.

Leaving Angola we where entering a main tourist destination again… Namibia.  With this naturally comes the touts.  There where a few at the border who tried to ‘help’ us but we quickly told them we where ok.  After all this is not our first African Border crossing, and we didn't need the help.  Most left us alone but there was one guy who just wouldn’t stop.  In the end I had to be quite firm with him and politely  told him to ‘piss of’ before he left us alone.  He wasn’t happy but at least we had some peace.

Coming back to our bikes I had a flat tyre. My first one through all of Africa. It all seemed a bit strange… and Dominik also didn’t feel right about the flat. Instead of immediately fixing the flat I only inflated it and checked the pressures regularly.  More than a week later my tyre is still ok.  It does look like someone wasn’t happy and tried to sabotage my tyre…  I wonder who it was?

Leaving Angola for the Namibian side was a bit strange.  I knew the hard part of Africa was over.  No more language barrier, no more visa issues and hopefully no more corrupt police.  I couldn’t wait to get to Namibia, but part of me was sad to say goodbye to ‘dark Africa.’  I enjoyed it immensely and just didn’t want things to end.
Amazingly I made it this far with my stack of US$1 bills unused.  WHOOP WHOOP!!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Safely in Namibia

We are in Namibia.  Angola was gorgeous, but I'll update properly later.
Just wanted to say we are ok.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Angola visa

I have my Angola Visa... WHOOP WHOOP!!!

Unbelievable... The internet is full of people being turned down, but somehow Dominik sweet talked the guys into giving us a visa.  It is only a 5 day transit visa, 5 days for 2000km, but it's all we need.

Yesterday we still thought it would take days, because the Consular wasn't back from holidays, and who comes back on a Friday.  I wouldn't.  This morning we where told that he was at work and our application for permission to apply for a visa was granted and we could come fill in the forms.  This afternoon the embassy called asking us to come pay for the Visa.  Done. Just like that.

There is still the possibility of being turned away at both the DRC and Angolan borders, but I think it's pretty remote.  If all goes well we should be in Namibia within two weeks.

Here is one off the threads on the Angolan Visa : Visa woes

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Nearly stuck in Luango

Luango lodge was everything I expected and so much more.  Pure luxury.  Clean white sheets.  Proper working shower.  Fantastic three course meals.  Game drives with tons of animals.  Gorgeous scenery.  Even some fishing.  And all the time Wynand was making sure I got spoilt as much as possible.  My planned short two day rest, turned into a full fledged five day holiday. Half because I couldn’t get out, and half because I just couldn’t get myself to leave.

I even met up with another biker.  Luis.  He is a Spanish guy doing the same trip as I am.  He also started in London, and has been on the road for two months.  Amazing how different our adventures are.  He has been on the road for two months and has covered about 12000km, while I have been on the road for four months and managed to cover 20000km.  We have been doing it very different, but we both are having a ball of a time.  Was great to sit and exchange stories, I think in the process we even managed to convince Wynand to try and do something similar.

My definite highlight at Luango was our fishing expedition.  I am not really into fishing.  I have never managed to catch anything of substantial size, so the bug just never bit me.  Wynand was full of stories of cooler boxes of big fish caught in an afternoon, and he quickly convinced me to give it a try.  We went out to a nearby lagoon, but in typical fashion I only managed a few small fish.  After we decided to give the nearby river mouth a try.  Where the river runs out into the sea there is a huge sandbank running about 50m into the sea.  The tide was low and the whole bank exposed so we decided to give the spot a try.  Just as we where about to cast, Wynand saw a biggish shark in the shallow waves.  Here we are knee deep in murky water and a shark is swimming a couple meters away.  Scary stuff, but we thought that if the shark was hunting there we should find fish.

Wynand was the first one to hook something, and it must have been big.  His reel was singing as the fish took off with his line.  After about a five minute struggle his line snapped.  We never saw what it was.  Wynand had the second big bite as well.   Again the fish took off with the line, the reel singing as the line was running out.  This time he managed a longer fight.  Whatever he caught was big, too big.  It snapped his line again.  While Wynand went back to shore to put on a new hook I saw another shark, and it was big.  It was about twenty meters behind me, in the shallows of the sandbank.  It must have tried to chase a fish onto the shallows of the sandbank.  The water it was in didn’t even cover half of it’s body, and with a big splash it worked itself into the deeper water.  Again I was knee deep in the water, but I quickly dashed out for the safety of our sandbank.  In the meantime the tide has slowly started to come in.  Our sandbank was gradually disappearing.
Not long after I had my big bite.  Same as Wynand,  the fish made a mad dash for freedom and took off with my line.  My reel singing a high pitched whine.  I managed a big tiring fight, but as soon as a got the fish into the shallows it took off again. Time after time.   After a bout half an hour we saw it for the first time, a big shark.  Wynand went into the shallows to try and catch it’s tail and drag it to shore, but it was way too big.  Wynand is nearly two meters tall, and the shark was bigger than him.  We think it must have been about two meters in length. WOW!!

Ready for our shark fishing expedition
While trying to get the shark ashore our island was slowly being covered by the incoming tide, and we where now standing in the shallows more than on dry land.  I also saw another big shark, just a couple meters away to my left side.  Just lazily swimming around, but so close it was scary. 

I came very close to pulling the big one ashore, but in the end it snapped my fishing rod, and then just after my line.  Nearly 45 minutes of struggling and all I had to show was a snapped rod and burning, aching arms.  Gutted, but loads of fun.

No fish... but a good story
It wasn’t until the excitement off the shark on my line died down, that we saw the position we where in.  The tide has come in a lot, and our sandbank was now completely under water.  Not deep, ankle to knee deep depending on the waves.  The amazing thing was the sharks, we could see at least five sitting in the shallows of the sand bank.  None more than 20 meters away, the closest just a couple of meters, and all along our route back.  They all looked big!!  It was hard to see exactly how big though, because of the murky river water we couldn’t see their bodies.  Only the pectoral fins and tail sticking out in the current.  I chased one of the closer ones, and it wasn’t until I got very close and it started to swim away that I saw how big it was.  I got the fright of my live.  It was big! Much bigger than expected.  I would guess close to 2 meters again, and the body was huge.  Needless to say I didn’t chase any of the other ones.

Luckily the sharks where just as scared as we where and we made it to shore without any incidents, but what an amazing sight.  Neither off us has ever seen so many big sharks from so close.  Absolutely mind blowing.  And I finally have a fishing tale of my own, about the big one that got away and the big one that nearly got me.  Loved every minute of it!!

The only way out
Getting out of Luango was nearly as hard as getting in.  There is only one road out, and for a twenty kilometre stretch there is a Shell gas pipeline running next to the road.  Because of safety issues they don’t allow petrol vehicles on that stretch.  Diesel vehicles can do the stretch, so I had to organise a pickup truck to load the bike on and take me past the pipeline (you also had to give the gate guards 24 hours notice before you could cross).  In Luango there was only one guy with a big enough pick up, but he wasn’t really keen to do it.  It took  a lot of convincing, and he asked a phenomenal fee.  What could I do, I had no choice but to pay up.  The first day the guy was supposed to take me he didn’t show up, and the next day we had to go get him at his house.  The piece of road going to the pipeline was unbelievably bad.  My bike rocking all over the place on the back of the truck.  I used everything I had to secure the bike but it wasn’t quite enough.  The journey there cost me a broken side stand, it snapped, and another broken mirror.  To make things worse the guy tried to drop me off before the pipeline, he didn’t want to take me across and so didn’t give 24 hours notice and used it as an excuse for not taking me across.  I have no idea how he thought I was going to do the road with my petrol bike.  I think he wanted me to hang around until someone else came by who could load my bike and take it to the other side of the pipeline.  Luckily I haven’t paid him yet, so with me threatening non payment he reluctantly organised for my bike to cross with some logging company’s trucks.  That nearly turned into a sticky  situation, but the guys at the logging company where very helpful and quickly had my bike on another truck.  Phew.
The open road... Just ride
Luis wasn’t so lucky, he had to camp at the gate while waiting for a truck to take him across.  He spent Christmas eve at the gate.  Poor guy.

 After the pipeline it was a relatively easy road to reach the highway again.  The broken side stand did make things a bit tricky.  Now every time I wanted to stop I had to lift the bike onto the centre stand.  Usually not to hard, but loaded up with all my luggage and in the bush this turned into quite a job.  In the end it was so much effort to get the bike on and off the centre stand that I just cut down on my stops.  The short stops just weren't worth it any more, and I tried to combine everything into a couple of big stops.  The broken side stand just needed to be welded back together, but I was supposed to meet Dominik and Morten in Congo for New Years, and running out of time I decided to just bare the discomfort.  I would get it welded while waiting for the Angolan Visa.

Breakfast of champions
Would have been a great plan if it wasn’t for the mud I encountered after crossing into Congo.  The border crossing was easy and again no hints at bribes.  My luck definitely holding.  After the crossing there where a few big muddy trenches, and the normal procedure is to stop and test how deep it actually is.  My bike can go up to the bottom of the seat in water, but it’s not the best for the bike.  Without my side stand it was such a mission to stop and get off, that I had to just wing it through the muddy trenches.  Choose what looks like the best route and hope it’s not to deep.  It worked relatively well, and most times the water wasn’t that deep.  But (always a but), there was a couple where I nearly got stuck and one very deep trench.  The water level came right up to my engine and just under my seat, and the bike nearly stalled.  Shit.  I came very close to drowning my bike, again.  But my luck held and I made it out.  The rest of the road to Dolisie was bad but not impossible.
Home made toll road on the left.

In Dolisie I met up with Dominik.  Morten was in Europe to try and get his Angola Visa from home.  The two off them tried for one in Brazzaville but where declined so Morten decided to apply from home.  There was a faint rumour on the internet about the possibility of Angolan Visa being issued in Dolisie, but no confirmation of one actually issued.  Before this rumour I wasn’t even aware that Dolisie had an Angolan Embassy, but with all other doors closed Dominik and I decided to give it a try.  We where the first customers at the Embassy after new years and everyone seemed very friendly.  Usually a good sign. The Consular was still on holiday, but they allowed us to make an application to apply for the visa.  Yes,  I had to apply for permission to apply for the visa.  At the same time Luis tried the embassy in Ponte Noir, and they wouldn’t even let him in the door.  This mountain is quickly turning into an Everest.
Red dust everywhere
This was the Tuesday and it is now Thursday, the Consular was supposed to be back from holiday but he isn’t.  No one knows when he will be back, so we can only patiently wait…


Friday, 30 December 2011

Road to Luango

I knew my planned alternative route to Louango had the potential to become quite a trek, but just how hard it was to get there and then back to the main road I could have never imagined.  Even the ferrry from Libreville to Port Gentil, turned into a mission, and that was supposed to be the easy part.

Ferry to nowhere

When I booked the ferry I was very specifically told a few times to be there at 8 am sharp.  Ouch.  So much for a lie in, but I was keen to get moving so I even set my alarm clock to make sure I’m up on time.  When I arrived at the port the next morning their whole story changed, the ferry was now only leaving at 7 that evening and they increased the fare for my bike massively.  Not a good start to my day, but I managed to haggle them back down to a reasonable price and  now had a whole day to kill.  Very frustrating when you actually want to be on the road, but I had odds and ends to do so the extra time came in very handy.  I was told to be there at 5pm, to give time to load my bike and learning from that morning I arrived around 6.  I thought I learned my lesson about African time, but I was way out.  They only just started to load up the boat and it wasn’t until about 9pm that I finally managed to load my bike and go on board.  The boat was chaos,  there was sitting place for about 30 people, but more than 60 passengers.  Everyone was scrambling around for the little space available.  I was getting ready for a very uncomfortable night out on the deck when one of the crew came looking for me.  It was a guy from Ghana who I chatted to while waiting to load up.  To my great surprise him and his brother cleared a berth in the staff cabins for me to sleep in.  How nice can you be?  My expected night of discomfort turned into relative luxury, with my own bed and two guardians fussing over me. Whoop whoop.
The warm seats

During the night I discussed my route to Luango with my two Ghanaian friends.  To my great dismay the said the road I wanted to take didn’t exist anymore.  Port Gentil is one of Gabon's biggest port cities, but there is no road access in or out of town.  WTF?  I was basically traveling to the equivalent of an island.  They did say I had some options to get off Port Gentil.  There should be a ferry going to Ombou (closest town to Luango), there maybe one to the next port on the coast, Gamba, and there might be some smaller boats ferrying goods to Ombou.  Plan Z was to get on the same ferry and go back to Libreville, would hate to do it, but at least I had a couple of backup plans.  I would be a bit stuck in Port Gentil but the situation wasn’t hopeless.

Sand, Sand and even more sand
Arriving in Port Gentil things started to go wrong straight away.  I couldn’t get off the ferry.  The immigration officer was a sourly, angry man and as soon as he saw my passport he blew his top.  He was extremely unhappy that I didn’t have a Gabon visa.  No matter how hard and nicely I tried to explain that South African citizens don’t need a visa, he just wouldn’t see the light.  The idiot even took my passport and made me stand in the corner, waiting for him to finish.  Like I was some naughty school boy about to be punished.  In the end my new Ghanaian friends came to the rescue.  They found out what happened and went and spoke to a police friend of theirs.  He quickly set the sourly guy right, and I got my passport back.  PHEW!  The sourly guy even made an half hearted apology.  It’s good to have a some guarding angels.

Like any  pig headed explorer I wasn’t read to give up on my planned route.  I promised my Ghanaian friends I would head straight for the ferry port, but before I did that I had to give the non existent road a try.  I gave myself 2 hours to see how the conditions where and then I would reassess.  They turned out to be so right.  The first part of the road was nothing more than deep, loose sand with dozens off small tracks branching away.  I came so close to getting badly stuck. Again and again.  I also had no way of knowing which track was the right one.  I would pick the whatever looked like it was rideable and going in the right direction.  Whenever I met up with some locals I would then ask directions.  Sounds easy enough but people where so few and far between that I did long stretches before I could get my route confirmed.  And half the time I chose the wrong track, forcing me to backtrack big stretches on the bad sandy terrain.  After an hour I knew I made the wrong decision, but being pig headed I kept on trying.  Idiot.  After two hours I’ve only managed to do about 5km of the actual route and to put the cherry on the cake some locals confirmed that the route ends at the next village.  So much for riding out of Port Gentil.  I actually made so little headway that I was back in town looking for a boat in less than half an hour.
Ready for a sea crossing?

Looking for a boat of off the so called island turned into a disaster.  No ferries untill after the Christmas weekend, and supposedly the smaller boats aslo stopped running until after the festive weekend.  Aw man,  I was stuck in Port Gentil, and I was desperate to make it to Luango for Christmas.  Luango was my reward to myself for working so hard on the trip.  A few days of pure luxury, after 4 months of roughing it. I really wanted to get there before Christmas, but the more I asked around the more it looked like all doors where closed.

Captain of the boat
Feeling a bit dejected I stopped for a some lunch at a beach side cafe, my first proper meal in 24 hours.  While sitting there and wondering how I was going to get out of Port Gentil, I saw some of the small boats unloading close by.  They where quite small, but I decided to give it a try anyway.  No luck, everyone I asked said they where finished until after the Christmas weekend.  It was only Friday and I hated the idea of being stuck there for the whole weekend.

As I was walking away, one of the captains came to me and said he was willing to make a trip to Ombue. WHOOP WHOOP.  His boat was very small, nothing more than a fibreglass pirogue with a small engine, but his price was very reasonable and he promised to get me there before dark.  I was so excited about getting away form Port Gentil that I really didn’t think things through properly, but I was committed.  We quickly loaded the bike and set off.  The route is supposed to be 100km up river through dense forest and estuaries.  What I didn’t know is that we had to cross a big bay to get the river mouth.  It’s in this bay that I nearly drowned my bike…

Gorgeous rain forest
As soon as we left the calm water of the harbour, the sea swell picked up significantly.  Our little boat was being rocked from side to side, and my poor bike was soaking wet from the boat’s spray.  Soaking wet with corrosive salt water.  Not a clever thing to do after the problems I had with my electronics.  I could just see days of meticulous hard work going up in a puff of smoke.  I was so angry at myself for trying to do a semi sea crossing on such a small boat, but there was not much to do, I could only cross my finger and hope that the electronics would be ok.  As luck would have it things became worse before they became better.  The swell picked up even more as we headed further out and our boat started rocking quite violently.  With the bigger swells my bike was rocking even more than the boat.  We where listing so far over that the bike was threatening to fall over.  Into the ocean!! In my minds eye I could already see the newspaper articles : ‘The winner of the 2011 Darwinian awards’ is…’  I couldn’t do anything to secure the bike more either.  As soon as I tried moving on the boat I only magnified the rocking.  All I could do was watch and pray.  My only salvation was my Captain, he wasn't fussed in the slightest.  He was happily singing away while driving the boat.  The harder I tried to signal to him that my bike was trying to take swimming lessons, the more he signalled ‘it’s ok.’
 But it’s not his bike.
Sunset on the boat

In the end I did the only thing I could.  I turned around, looked ahead, and prayed my bike would be ok.  I had no choice but to trust my singing captains’ boating skills.

After what felt like an eternity we reached the river mouth and the water became glassy smooth.  I don’t know how the bike stayed on the boat, but it did and that was all that mattered.
The next few hours where breathtakingly beautiful.  We lazily made our way upriver, traveling through thick equatorial jungle.  We barely saw any other boats, and only a couple shacks every now and then.  It was only me, my bike and our signing captain lost in a mountain of jungle.  The feeling of extreme remoteness was unbelievably intense.  It looked like I was in my own episode of National Geographic.  I loved every minute off it.

Our supposed three hour journey turned into a six hour epic.  Never believe an African when it comes to time.  Darkness came way to quickly and we finished the last half of the boat trip in the dark.  Initially I was sceptical about traveling in the dark, but my singing captain was more than happy to continue.  It looked like he knew the river very well, and seemed to anticipate the sharp turns and forks along the way. I could only trust him, so I spend the rest off the journey looking at the gorgeous stars.  It was a near cloudless night and there where no other lights for miles.  What an amazing sight. 

Creeping insanity?

We didn’t reach Ombue until about 10 that night.  I was shattered and really dreading having to look for accommodation in total darkness, but my all singing captain dropped me off at a hotel on the waters edge.  After the initial panic of crossing the bay, the rest of the boat trip was phenomenal.  Definitely one of the highlights of my trip, and I was on track to reach Luango before Christmas.  I couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear when I went to bed.

Ombue was only about 70 kilometres from Luango, and I was keen to reach it early the next day, but I first had to sort my gear out.  My bike needed a wash after the salty shower, and half my stuff was soaked.  I spend the next morning trying to dry everything and cleaning the bike.  It was less than 24 hours after the sea expedition and already the chain was starting to show rust.  I was dreading what the corrosive salt was doing to my the electronics, but as usual I could only do so much and then cross my fingers and hope everything will be.

I arrived at Loango late in the afternoon, shattered and very nervous.  It took all of 3 days intense and hard travel to reach the lodge.  It is in a very remote part of Gabon, I had no idea what the one and only road out would be like and I didn’t even know if I would be able to stay there.  The lodge caters for the well off market and is extremely expensive.  About $400 a night.  A few nights there is equal to a month’s survival money in Africa.  I couldn’t really afford it but I was willing to wing it and see if I could wangle something.  Worse case scenario I could just skip Loango, the journey there was so amazing that it would be reward enough.

All my worries where completely unfounded.  At Loango I met another one of my guardians.  The manager there, a South African called Wynand.  I barely started to explain my situation when he stopped me and said: ‘Don’t worry we’ll sort something out.’  Ten minutes later I was booked into Luango Lodge.  WHOOP WHOOP!!

Loango Lodge

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas gifts


Hope you all have a fantastic festive period with friends, family and good wine.

To all those who have been making enquiries about where to send my presents, just use the paypal link.

My charity needs some money!!